Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Some comments on Real Estate Agents

First off, we want to say that we appreciate realtors very much for the upstream job they do in selling our plans.  Granted, they don't sell our plans directly, but they do sell the building that the contractor created from our plans.  But there are some things that we'll never understand.  Most likely this can just be chalked up to personality types, life direction, etc.  Sort of like we will never understand the Chinese culture.  If you are a realtor, we invite you to respond with intelligent answers in an attempt for open communication.

1. Why does all of your marketing material have your face on it?  Why do we care what you look like?  Some of you are not very attractive, even with glamor shots and PhotoshopTM.  Maybe you say it's because your face is your image and it's how people remember you.  We think you guys all look the same.  Same with insurance agents and lawyers.  But the contractors who build our plans don't advertise with their face.  As building designers, we don't advertise our face (we know better!).  Plumbers don't, electricians don't, and the guy who lays the carpet doesn't.  So why do you?  Is this the way it's always been done?  We'll bet if you used something other than your face, you might get noticed as being unique.  Just a thought.  Maybe an icon of a house with some zoom lines around it that says "I make quick sales".  That's what we really want anyway, not your face on a lawn sign.

2. I understand that not anyone can get a realtors license.  You've got to have patience, a study guide, and $500 to take the test.  So why on the test do they not mention anything about house styles?  I swear, every other house listed in our local paper is a 'bungalow'.  I know for a fact that there are not that many bungalows in the state.  Is a bungalow sexy or something?  Or is it just a cop-out because other housing styles aren't known?  We've seen tudor, craftsman, prairie, ranch and victorian all listed as bungalow.  Another one that crops up is 'old Portland style'.  What!?  Which style?  This one really is a cop-out.  It's used a lot on prairie cubes and bungalows where the word bungalow has been already overused.  If I may suggest, could you research housing styles and figure out more than five?

3. Why did we receive junk mail and solicitations AFTER we bought our current abode?  Did you think that we would be so impressed by a circular with your face on it that we would immediately want to buy another home?  Like we could afford that?  Instead, the timing of your mailer was so backwards that we looked at it, made fun of the timing, and then recycled it without another thought.  No, I don't know who it was, you all look the same.  It would be understandable if Istockhouseplans chose to leave catalogs on construction sites.  Builders tend to build more than 1 house every 3-5 years.

4. Maybe the general public can't tell, but some of your fliers for houses are less than spectacular.  The fliers themselves sometimes use gaudy colors or err on the other side of no bling at all.  AT ALL.  We do want to see more than a list of 'amenities' in 10 pt font and 4 1"x1" photos of the house.  But we don't want to see what looks like a beginner's guide to every option in Print ShopTM.  A simple left margin graphic, 3 colors, and appropriate font size are a good place to start.  And make the price tag big enough that it can be seen through the 'take one' flier box, in the rain, from the car, at the curb.  We are not pleased with having to open the door in a downpour to grab a flier (or 110 degree temps for those in SoCal).  The mere act of touching a flier will not increase the chances of buying a house.  Folks who are driving through a neighborhood they haven't been through before do not want to write down an address to look up when they get home.  They'll forget.  Or they will merely go the next house with a post and shingle and look at the flier through the glass.  If they feel they can afford it, they'll risk the elements to grab a flier.

5. Photographs.  This should be 'nuff said.  First, include them.  When a flier says 'Too new for photos', this is immediately understood as laziness.  "But I just have to get signs and an RMLS listing up today!"  Good, go get some photos first.  Years ago we saw a website of a realtor who was making fun of other realtors for their photos.  If you can be seen in the bathroom mirror as you run by to take a photo, it's worth a retake.  If the neighbor's trashy car is visible through living room windows, it's worth a retake.  Second, please stage your photos.  This does not need to be spendy.  Clutter in the house MUST GO.  Make your client clean up, get a storage space, or explain to them their house will take 6 months to sell.  Being able to spot a box of 'toys' in a master bedroom photo will make us ask for new carpet.  Just in case.  No, steam cleaning won't be enough, thank you.  And lighting is a must.  Invest in some shop lights on a stand and use them for INDIRECT lighting.  Perhaps you could consider a fish eye lens.  Nothing dramatic, but have you ever tried to photograph a small bedroom or bathroom?  It's almost impossible to see the whole thing.  A subtle fish-eye style lens with 120+ degree views could help.  A lot.

Now we understand that home designers giving sales advice to realtors is similar to realtors telling us how to design houses.  So be it.  Consider this to be some helpful advice and tips from our years of experience in the housing industry.  Feel free to leave comments.  If you'd like to discuss more, email us.  Without your face.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You're fired!

In searching for some material on fireblocking, we ran across this thread on the DIY Chatroom.  Indispensible material.  This is generally the bane of do-it-yourselfers and code officials alike.


Istockhouseplans is currently working on trying to fireblock a double 2x4 common wall with raised heel trusses.  We'd like to rock the wall all the way up and then hang the trusses but are unsure that the hanger would achieve strength through two layers of 5/8" type X drywall.  A more viable option would be to nail a 2x4 ledger through the sheetrock into the walls studs.  This would require 1.5" + 5/8" + 5/8" + 1" embedment = 3.75" nails.  While 18d nails might not be common, this is going to require a bunch of hand driven 20d nails.   Those won't exactly fit into a power nailer.  The other option is multiple 2x16 blocking between trusses.  Not really an option though.  Maybe stacking 2 pieces of 4x8 would do it?  Does anybody have input?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Water, water everywhere

What would life be without good old H-2-O?  Dead, that's what.  If a little water is good, more should be better, right?  If you've been around the block even once you know that the standard answer to this formulaic question should be 'no'.

And of course it's no!  Especially when we consider your house, your biggest investment, your protection from the elements, prying eyes, and the marauding huns.  Why do builders let water pile up on a wood subfloor, leave their materials in the rain and mud, and install insulation and drywall over wet wood?  How would they feel if their truck was built this way?

Building in the rain.  In some parts of the country, this is a fact of life that is unavoidable.  If it takes 3 months to frame a house, you are guaranteed a few rainy days.  Since no one (not even weathermen) can accurately predict the weather beyond the next day, it is impossible to completely frame a house dry.  Arizona, sure.  Not in the Pacific Northwest though.  But there are steps that can be taken to keep things as dry as possible.  First, don't plan to build in January.  Second, invest a few dollars in cheap insurance.  If you are building an elevated wood floor (that is, a crawlspace not a slab), make your last step include a giant paint roller with a long handle and a discounted bucket of 5 gallon paint, color unimportant.  This will protect your wood floor from standing water.  Walls go up, roof goes up, and then sheathing as soon as possible.  If there will be any amount of lag time getting the finish roof on, again paint the roof deck.  The problem here is that there are always spaces between roofing panels and water will leak through.  The worst spot is the peak, especially if a ridge vent is planned.  This gives a beautiful 6" wide by 20' long space for rain to come right in.  If you have a butterfly roof, don't build in the rain as this would make a funnel.

Finally, I don't care how tight your schedule is, buy a $13 moisture meter from Harbor Freight and don't do anything else until the moisture content is below 19%.  Since the aforementioned tool has an accuracy rating of +/-2% for wood, go for 17%.  Why 19%?  Most mold and fungus will not thrive below that and most insects will move out.  It wall also allow better equilibrium in the wood resulting in less drywall cracks and creaking of the home.  Further, it will reduce the amount of moisture trapped in the walls.  Even further, some codes require this.

Storing your materials.  Too often we go to construction sites and see a pile of 2x6 sticks sitting in the mud getting rained on.  Double you tee eff.  How is this okay?  What part of this makes you feel good?  If you were a pig or a toad, maybe,  Spend a few bucks for some pallets to keep your wood off the ground, then get some tarps or used billboard vinyls.  "Why would I spend hundreds on this?"  Hundreds?  No, less than that.  Did you even click the link?  A 10'x30' used vinyl is $60.  And you spend less than a hundred on this to get your moisture content down and save thousands on a callback.  Please don't be that short-sighted.

Think of it this way; the less moisture the wood takes into the house, the less time you need to wait for it to dry out.

Protecting your product.  Your product is the house and it's only worth the amount of trouble free time it will stand.  If moisture gets into the wall, the value ends.  Your goal is to manage the moisture that gets into the wall.  Not to keep moisture out of the wall, but to manage it.  It will get in.  From the outside.  Unless you are installing double welded steel siding, wind and thermal will drive moisture behind the siding.  At this point you have two options.  The first is to pretend it doesn't happen.  The second is to manage it.

So you've decided to manage your water issue.  The first step is admitting you have a problem so you're already on the way.  The second step is called a rainscreen.  There are several off the shelf products that can achieve this concept.  You can also use scrap plywood on site to create 2-3" battens and manage the water.  The idea is that the water that gets behind the wall then drains in a wide enough plane to not get stuck via capillary action and then drain out a screen at a bottom.  Water that freely drains is no longer available to stick around via surface tension and find crevices and cracks in your construction and seep into the wall.  Water in the wall can wet insulation, rendering it useless.  It can also harbor mold, mildew, and insects, hazarding your house and it's occupants' health.  If you have any lick and stick fake stone veneer, this is tantamount as the stuff is like a sponge.  It will readily take in water and hold it.  When the sun comes out, it will be driven back and then be held against your sheathing or building paper.  Compounds in the mortar then eat away at the paper and the moisture is free to roam about your wood sheathing.

Getting it right.  Contact Istockhouseplans for CAD details about how to handle this moisture.  We can spec out a rainscreen for you and make sure your final product is the best possible.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hey baby, what's your... sign?

One of our local builders that we team up with, Cutting Edge Homes, is in the process of building some of our latest drawings.  Clackamas County is showcasing his homes for energy efficiency and has invited commissioners, legislators, and the general public.  The idea is to show off some energy efficiency measures and help folks understand what they should expect in new homes.  In this case is improved air sealing, improved insulation, tankless hot water heaters, and one unit with ducts inside the conditioned space.

We thought the event made perfect sense to flash a little leg, as it were.  After all, SOMEbody had to design the energy efficiency into these things and make sure they were going to exceed code.  So we had some lawn signs made up and stabbed them into the dirt on the jobsite.  You can see that our design prowess is not just limited to buildings, but advertising as well.  Perhaps.

The event will be November 10th at 3p at 14848 SE Arista Dr. Milwaukie, OR.  Come out and see what things are happening and to introduce yourself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Go Green, Go Small

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) released a report today on an evaluation of waste prevention practices using life cycle analysis.  The report focused on 30 different measures and the impact they could have on our environment over a 70 year span.  We thought some of these measures might fare favorably.  Such include advanced framing, using salvaged materials, drywall clips, and other such resource efficient methods.  Of all the measures focused on though, the winners were smaller homes and multi-family living.  This would make sense since the measures we favored would tend to have more of a point of use impact whereas the clear winners would have more of a lifetime impact.  You can read the full report on ODEQ's website.

In this case, smaller home means 1149sf, half the size of the national average.  Istockhouseplans finds this rather exciting since our average designed house size is tending that direction.  We noted last December that average house size has peaked and is on the slide.  While not all the chips are falling immediately into the tiny house movement, it's encouraging to see the push this direction.  We hope that large home builders will be able to reduce their house sizes by using some of the techniques that the tiny house design community has put forth.  We will continue to work on our plans adding more 700sf and smaller plans as time allows.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Istockhouseplans seems to be creating a middle ground of homes in our arsenal.  We have composed quite a little group of tiny homes, by our definition 600sf and less.  With such homes as the Albina and Albina A encroaching above that mark we are having to redefine what a tiny home really is.  Both of these examples are under 600sf but have non-legal loft space of 300sf.  One could define a tiny home on square footage alone.  Part of the problem here is when a tiny home gets a modification that increases it's size past the cutoff point.  Does it then suddenly become a standard sized single family home?  We would like our classifications to make sense but also be flexible without being unruly.  So perhaps we increase our benchmark but it becomes a game of chasing one's tail.  At some point a tiny home may be around 1000sf.  Do we then bring all the related models up to the standard set on account of the largest revision?

In the meantime we have increased our tiny home definition to 700sf if only to accommodate our latest design.  The Durham A is based off of the standard Durham, but with an attached 10x12 addition.  This brings this little 1 bed 1 bath accessory dwelling up to 696sf.  Why do you think we upped our maximum size?  We liked the original of this little beast but were inspired to increase it after playing with some LEGO bricks.  In fact, the picture on set 5477 looks similar to what we ended up building.  Our drawn plans have a little more precision than the plastic brick model.

Speaking of which, if you would like to commission a LEGO model of any of our homes that you are building, contact us and we'll talk about details.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Build House Plans

Well, not us specifically, but one of our house plans was recently purchased and is undergoing a bid process.  Samanns Construction is building the Lombard 1558-2 in Ambler, PA.  His website, http://www.203locustst.com is currently soliciting bids for every part of the construction process.  If you are able to conduct business in Ambler (north a bit of Philly), contact them to submit your bid.

Only two things disappoint us about this build.  The first is that they removed the bay windows, especially the inset bay in the dining room.  While we can understand the desire for an easy square build, it feels like the character is being removed.  Second, that they offer carpet in the basement as an upgrade.  This is almost always a sure-fire way to get mold unless you are meticulous about your specifications.  We bid you a sincere good luck.

Thanks for purchasing from Istockhouseplans and we look forward to seeing the final product!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Historic Fail

If you've seen Istockhouseplans' portfolio lately, you may have noticed a pattern.  We're pretty crazy about historic styles.  Large wood, texture, built-ins, house bling, etc. all play a part in the way we design.  But our design only covers part of the scenario.  We can design all we want, but the final product is left to the builder.  We can spec out materials and such but the fact is that the permitting jurisdiction only cares about structural and code issues.  As well they should.  Historic review boards will care about such matters.  In fact, we were recently privileged to sit in on and testify in front of a historic review board for a private commission we are working on.

While the historic review board was amenable to both historic-ish styles and the builder's pocketbook, we were a little disappointed that they didn't even discuss certain issues.  Some of these we think are crucial to distinguish between a true classic and a blatant reproduction.  While we mentioned some key issues a few years ago, we think that there are three that should always occur on a reproduction or historic remodel:

Windows.  Look at an old house.  Where are the windows located?  They are generally inside the wall.  Now look at most new homes and answer the same question?  The windows on the outside of the wall.  A little 2-3" nudge makes a huge difference.  So how do you install a new flange window inside the wall?  One way is to frame your openings 3" larger each direction and then install a 2x4 subframe inside the 2x6 frame.  The window then gets mounted to the subframe and floats inside the wall a few inches.  Cut down on all the extra wood by integrating the 2x4 subframe as part of the structural load path.  Another option is to purchase tip-in style retrofit windows.  Cost may be a factor in this case.

Siding.  Have you ever wondered why a substandard recladding of an old home looks so disappointing?  Think texture and relief.  First, old homes did not have one type of siding.  Two are minimum.  Even if both styles are lap and the difference is 4" vs. 8" reveal, it can make a house pop.  The biggest problem in our opinion is the relief of fiber cement lap siding.  How thick is the bottom edge of yesteryear's lap siding?  Darn near 1/2".  Now look at the specs of Hardi-plank.  How thick?  5/16", barely more than 1/4".  the stuff might as well be flat.  That tiny little edge looks puny, like trying to do 5/4x6" bargeboards.  Hey Mr. Hardie!  Have you ever considered putting a lip on the edge of that stuff to give it a stronger look?  If we ever get to build, we will not use that stuff.  Who cares if it lasts 100 years.  That's 100 years of puny looking disappointment.  "What will you use then, tough guy?"  What indeed.  Glad you asked.  Wood.  Wood lap siding with a 1/2"+ edge to it that makes the house look like it has been around forever.  Prime 6 sides and paint the visible sides.  Lots of work, yes, but the result is amazing and the durability just as good as Hardi.

Roofing.  It used to be (back when I was a boy!) that the roof color was complementary to the color scheme of the house.  Light grays, browns, even red, blue and green asphalt shingles gave interest to the color scheme below.  Now it seems that most new homes are similar to the Model T.  "Your roof can be any color you want, so long as it's black.  Because I bought 3000 squares and I have to get rid of it..."  Why are new roofs black anyway?  Is it because there's some aesthetic about a sharp contrast to one of the 3 shades of camel that new homes are colored?  We think it looks like a thick heavy black cap that smashes the house down and makes it look foreboding.  It also invites heat to be absorbed into the attic.  If you're building new historic or renovating, please don't use black.

If anybody out there can answer our concerns, we would love to hear.  Add a comment to this blog and set us straight.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I curse you... thinner!

As if taken by some inexplicable force, Istockhouseplans has become more and more obsessed with smaller and smaller homes.  Our latest release is sure to boggle the mind.

The Cascadia 1052 was contrived after looking at a typical 15' skinny house the wrong way.  The massing portion appeared to be only 10' wide and seemed reasonable.  "What the hey, let's see if it will work!"  It, um, did.  Sort of.  We made a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom home in 1009sf and 10' wide.  It's kind of like a shotgun house except it's 2 stories.  So it's more like a single barrel shotgun with a massive sniper scope.  Give it a look and tell us what you think.  If the reaction is generally positive, maybe we'll try another iteration.  If the consensus involves torches and pitchforks, we'll drop the price.  If there's no reaction whatsoever, we'll go out for beers.

Speaking of which, the first person to build these plans gets a free 6-pack, on us.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

May We Suggest?

From time to time Istockhouseplans receives questions about our plans.  Some feel that we are too light with our information, not including enough detail.  If this sounds like you it's quite possible that you have worked with an architect in the past.  Architects are quite notorious about detail.  As we noted earlier, we are not those architects.  A colleague said something very true the other day.  The quote mostly follows, "My plans are more of a suggestion.  It's up to the builder to take care of the details."  While this may sound arrogant or lazy, we see real value in this statement.

We have tried filling detail into plans only to have it ignored.  A good example is stairs.  If you are site-building stairs, there are at least three ways to build the carcass, at least three ways to attach the treads and risers, and at least three ways to attach a finish material.  Right there are 27 ways to build stairs.  We see no need to include every possible detail.  You as a builder are going to build stairs the way you have always built stairs.  If the situation messes up your usual way of doing things, you'll figure out a way on your own based on your own experience.

The same goes for detailing exterior trim.  This is why our houses look fairly plain.  All of our homes are drawn with typical 6" lap siding except for the occasional board and batten or shingle pattern.  Don't like it?  Change it, we don't care.  If you want to throw T1-11 all over it, feel free (but for heaven's sake, don't tell us, send pictures or advertise it as our plan!)  Don't like the kitchen layout?  Fine with us, talk to an NKBA professional.  Porch too small/big/unattractive?  Have a beer, peruse a magazine, and design your dream porch suitable to your region.  It's all in your hands.

Or put it this way: Our house plans are like a cooking recipe.  Add more meat, change the veggies, and spice it up a notch.  Throw in your own special ingredient, change the heat, or create a redux to simplify the whole thing.  (FYI, cooking is a side hobby in the office kitchen).

We feel it is our job to create some space layout, flow, and basic structural capacity.  But the rest we leave to you.  If we feel something is important to a particular look, we might detail it out.  Send us an email and we can give some more suggestions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


For Istockhouseplans, it's fun to know that you've made an impact.  In our last post we shared a great kudos email we received that encouraged us to keep it up.  It got us to thinking, where all have we been?  So we pulled up prior invoices and found as many sites as possible.  While not quite everything is available, we added as much as we could to a Google map to see where we've been built.  So far:

2 countries,
9 states,
1 province.

From the frigid north to the humid south and sea to shining sea our plans have inspired their own building.  If you'd like to see the map for yourself, check out our mapplet on the website.  Most pins are in the general area that the house was built since we don't always know the exact address.  You might note other plan names and wonder why they're not for sale on the main site.  Most of the time it was a custom design that we have kept proprietary to the commission.  Other times it may be that we haven't finished the plan for national sale yet.

If you have built one of our plans and you're not on the map, or you would like to give us a more specific location, we'll gladly move the pin to get a more exact representation.  To those of you who have built our plans, thanks for your support.  For those of you only browsing, consider those that have gone before you.  We hope to fill every state some day with at least one pushpin.  Be that pushpin!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why we do what we do

We recently sold a plan and wanted to share the kudos we received.  As we've mentioned before, we don't market plans to the masses.  This isn't about rolling over to make a buck.  This is about holding to a standard and doing it well.  We got some new wind under our wings, coal in our tender, lead in our pencils.

Or something.  Anyway, here's the email we received:

"My husband and I are building the home ourselves next summer on a beautiful coulee in North Dakota.  If you are ever in the state - stop by.  I spent days searching for a house plan that was economical to build, timeless and beautiful.  Glad we found it!"

Thanks!  That about sums up our entire business philosophy, mentioned in our very first blog post.  Check out Istockhouseplans for a catalog full of plans that fit this description.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tiny Housing and Where to Stick it.

As you may know, we have been more and more interested in designing tiny houses.  Michael Janzen at the Tiny House Blog recently posted a good article detailing how to find land to build your tiny house.  Though many places have restrictions, there are more that do not.  Michael is from California and writes from that perspective.  Istockhouseplans gave an Oregon perspective.  The main points of the article are:

1. Avoid building codes
2. Camp on your land
3. Alternate Zoning
4. Trailer Park
5. Build an Ecovillage
6. Move to the countryside
7. Camp in a friend's backyard
8. Hide in plain sight
9. Seek a variance

Our reply and additional information for Oregon:

Oh boy Michael, I think this is a big can of worms. Pardon, in advance, the long post that I feel is coming. I am familiar with Oregon Building Codes (based off of IRC) and many of the greater Portland area municipalities’ zoning codes. I write from this perspective.

States that have building codes truly are protecting folks. The code and inspections ensures that the house is being built safely. Moreover, room size minimums are to be sure that unscrupulous builders do not create 1000sf 5 bedroom (3 of which are 6′x5′ without a closet) homes akin to tenement housing. This is accountability and guides consumer expectations. I do realize that consumers have been conditioned to expect a small bedroom to be 10′x11′ and the previous example would probably not sell.

The codes also are in place to protect firefighters in rescue situations. I recently was privileged to listen in to the Oregon State Code Board and their revisions to our next code update. Most of their structural concerns were with firefighter safety. A floor over a basement collapsed last year due to structural inadequacy, causing the death of a couple firefighters. Windows are important too. You may be able to squeeze out of a 2′x2′ opening, but if you are unconscious, you will appreciate having a 5.7sf opening that a firefighter can get into, pack and all.

Oregon has minimum room sizes (70sf) and ceiling heights (7′ +/-) but these can be ignored if you are building the house yourself (contractor’s license not required) and will be living in it for at least two years (not selling it right away). The Carver series of homes on my website plays with this notion. All three homes are less than 300sf. Two have ‘legal’ rooms and the third ignores that standard.

I don’t believe that any jurisdiction in Oregon regulates minimum house size. These restrictions are generally put in place by upper scale housing developments with HOAs. You probably don’t want to live there anyways. Accessory structures are allowed without a permit in most zoned areas if they are 120sf and less. Oregon has increased this maximum to 200sf.

Camping on your land near municipalities is generally allowed but carries a rule of no more than 30 days in any 6 month period and cannot be closer than 3 miles to an established city (Clackamas County, some rural zones). I understand the idea is to keep transients from mucking up areas. Oregon apparently does not like it’s transients.

Your idea regarding multi-family is a great idea. Some of the zones around Portland allow for separated structures, but some require attached units. City of Portland has a minimum amount of units to be built on a piece of land. For instance, a 100′x100′ parcel in R-2 zoning requires a minimum of 4 units. They must all be built at the same time or within a couple years of each other.

Variances can be sought around here, but require several things. The first is that you must get approval from a percentage of neighboring properties within a certain radius. The second is that you must prove a hardship in order to apply for the variance. Most of the time, the use must not preclude the base zone use. For instance, trying to get a house built in an EFU (exclusive farm use) zone has several restrictions. The land is considered high quality and reserved for crops.

Setting up as an ADU is generally encouraged by the City of Portland and most other jurisdictions. Portland has even reduced their fees to create an ADU. Clackamas County will only allow one kitchen on a piece of property.

I like the idea of hiding in plain sight. I was recently looking at a piece of land that was 30′x1300′. This was a county owned property that was being auctioned off at a starting bid of $1048. It was zoned for farm use only, but allowed buildings that were incidental to farm use. My thought was to use the land as my own personal garden and orchard. I would build a 198sf (avoid permits) cute (neighbor appeal) ‘processing shed’ (incidental to farm use) and use that as a tiny cabin. My family of four would spend weekends there. In the fall, we truly would use the bed platforms to process bushels of apples.

My best option for a permanent home would be to purchase one of these substandard county parcels through auction that was zoned for housing. These parcels are considered substandard because they won’t fit a 40′ wide home and are therefore sold for 4 digits as opposed to 5 or 6. Many rural properties around here want a 10′ side setback. With the previous 30′ wide property (were it zoned residential), that would allow for a 10′ wide home, plenty wide enough for me to work with (and allows for the minimum 7′ wide rooms). In fact, cantilevers are allowed that would allow some rooms to be wider than 9′ inside.

Problem is that while I would spend $1000 for the land, I would end up spending $5000 or more for a well and $10,000 for a permit. I would install a composting toilet and avoid the septic cost. I do the building myself and after all costs are considered, I’m in a permanent legal place of 600sf for around $40k. This is acceptable to me but I know that others will be wanting to do the whole package for under $10k.
My other option was to enact the camping clause, drag a 28′ trailer to the site, and build a tiny home on it. Maybe even with pallets!

I hope this helps some of your readers who live in other parts of the country to explore their local codes and see what they can pull off.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Putting our designs where our thoughts are

Our last post explored some skinny homes that, while cute, may not be your idea of full time living comfort.  As a sort of compromise, we present to you our version of a skinnier home.  While we currently have a typical 15' wide home in our catalog, we pushed the envelope a little and came up with 12' wide.  The Fremont 1260-3 is actually a triplex that can fit on a standard 50x100' lot if your zoning allows.

This delightful little creation has actually been on our books for a year and a half.  We'd get frustrated with the little gem, then have new vigor, only to repeat the cycle over and over.  Even still we are trying to work out one more detail area.  But it is available for sale should you like to maximize the potential rent on your lot.

Each unit is 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths and 1181 square feet.  We even managed to add a single car garage to each unit.  We tried to give some character with a tipout on either side and ended up creating a bit of a nightmare roof line.  After chasing our tails on that for a while, we tamed the beast and made it less Escherish.

This was a bit of an experiment in skinniness and our first attempt.  We are researching some other design ideas and working on another skinny mini.  Hopefully it will see the light of 2010.  If you are interested in skinny homes for skinny lots, contact Istockhouseplans for a custom job.  We are interested in some challenges for homes that are less than 15' wide.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Anorexic Architecture

Our current fascination with tiny homes started with one dimension only. Several years ago we were patrolling the web for skinny homes. Not just skinny homes, but the skinniest homes in the world. Our thought was in trying to cram as many homes as possible onto a 50x100' wide lot, assuming zoning allowed. Given that 5' setbacks are typical, we figured there would be a 40' wide footprint. Most folks would say 2 attached 20' wides would be typical. We are currently working on a 3-16' wide building. But you could easily do 4-10' wide houses. Crazy? Consider that building code requires a minimum 7' wide room in homes and you could cram 5-8' wide homes onto that lot.

But history has brought about some even skinnier homes. Boston, MA and Alameda, CA have their 10' wide homes. In Alexandria, VA is a skinny house that was built to close off an alley. The home is 7x25' and two stories tall. In the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle, WA is a house that, while 15' at the front, is 4.5' in the rear.

The most notorious of all skinny homes was the so-called Richardson Spite House at the corner of 82nd St. and the newly punched through Lexington Avenue. Built to spite his neighbor for an insultingly low offer for his 5' sliver of land, each of the two houses built contained 8 suites each which rented for $500 per year.

While we don't recommend building strange homes to spite your neighbors, we are interested in designing homes for lots that seem unbuildable. If you own a piece of property that seems too difficult to build on, contact istockhouseplans and we'd be happy to design a home for you. We appreciate the challenge of taking the zoning and building codes to their limits. Don't be fooled by our stock skinny offering. We can make this thing look like a wide mouth bass.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's the difference between an architect?

In Oregon there exists a secret society that has all but trademarked a common word and all it's iterations. The only way you can claim to be an architect, do architectural drawings, or practice architecture is to be a 4-year schooled and trained, passed the exam, and certified professional. The idea is to protect the public from folks who do the same thing but are not board certified architects.

I suppose this is rather smart as it would be akin to separating attorneys from legal professionals. However it seems the public is not so trained in the difference. To the general public, anyone who designs a house is an architect. Time and again we have been referred to as architects, asked if we do architectural work, or had our work referred to as architecture. While we are flattered, please be aware that we are not trained or certified as architects per se. However, the State of Oregon cannot keep other individuals from drawing houses and submitting them for permits. (Nevada, however, can and does).

So to be clear, we are not architects. What are we then? We have always referred to ourselves as design professionals. What's the difference? We have training and experience, but we are not certified by a board. We are limited to designing homes of a particular size, but this has been a threshold higher than we care to reach. The main difference is that we cost way less.

If you are looking for a custom designed 8,000sf house, please contract the services of an architect. If you are looking for a cute little stock plan for an 1800sf home, look no further than Istockhouseplans. We have a diverse portfolio of homes and would be happy to help you with your next project.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dream it, Design it, Build it, Pallet!

We at Istockhouseplans have been a bit busy this last month exploring a new outlet. While designing standard homes is a lot of fun, we yearn to trade in our mouse and T-square for a hammer and framing square. For a long time we have been following Michael Janzen's Tiny Free House blog. Michael is attempting to (and succeeding at) building a tiny free house out of found materials. The main structure of the 96sf home is made out of pallets. Intriguing! And very sensible. After all, most pallets are already built with rigidity and rough handling in mind. He expanded this idea to a blog called the Tiny Pallet House. Then there's John in Nova Scotia who has built several outbuildings and a fence out of pallets. We've even seen a pallet fence in our own neighborhood.

Enter our food co-op. The co-op runs a garden that is in need of a shed. Initially we stepped up to help with it. The sheer number of other interested folks made us shy away because after all, no one else would understand or be willing to embark on a pallet shed. After a few weeks, the call was put out again as no one had actually done anything other than raise their hands. So we called dibs on the project and immediately started designing for pallet use.

The shed is to be about 8'x8' and not terribly tall. It was designed to use 20 standard 40"x48" size pallets. There would be 2 courses of pallets 48" wide and 40" tall. This results in a plate line of 80" tall, good for doors. The pallets on the front would be relieved of about 14" of material each, leaving space for a 28" window. This 14" would then stack on top of and tie into the front wall making it about 8' when plates are considered. The plan was then to tie 6 pallets together to create the shed roof. The roof includes a 24" overhang on the back side to hide garbage cans. The whole thing would rest on some reclaimed cedar fence boards on top of a packed gravel floor.

Pallet shed floor plan, rear wall, and front wall.

Pallet shed side view, roof plan

The door works well as it is about a 3' gap left after 48" of pallets is put in the 7.5' +/- space between the sides of the front and back pallets. The pallets on the roof are tied together with some 2x4x8 inside the pallets and some 2x6 on the outside for trim. Corrugated clear roof panels keep the rain out. We were going to plywood the sides but reclaimed fence board could be used as vertical batts between pallet boards, or lapped as desired.

What actually happened is something a little different. There were a handful of free pallet ads on Craigslist. By the time we showed up, there was nothing left of anything close to 40"x48" pallets. So we surveyed a few sites and found some great 8'x6'-4" ish sized ones. Perfect! This was better than tying four smaller pallets together. There was even one that was 7'-4"x6'-4" which means it would fit right between the front and rear pallets without cutting and maintain the 8'x8' footprint. We loaded them onto (mind you, not INTO) the truck and drove to the site where we started prepping the panels to tie together. Unfortunately we couldn't do much else since gravel had not arrived for the floor.

Since the whole project is being attempted for the princely sum of no money down, no payments ever, we are looking for free gravel on Craigslist. Hopefully we will be done within a month. As progress is made, we will keep you posted and throw up a few pictures.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Release the Houses!

In a flurry of activity and a flood of ink, we finished drafting up not one, not two, not five, but three new houseplans. All are live on our site as I type. "And what are these new, beautiful works of art" you may ask? Without further ado (okay, let's have some drum roll...)

The Richmond B. A longstanding gap has been filled. The Richmond A and C were separated by a void that is now filled. The C had been used to denote the Colonial version while the B had been reserved for the pronounced bay window version. The Richmond B is a reworking of the Richmond, but down to 18' wide and a full 24" deep bay in the dining room. Heck, the dining room IS the bay window. Due to the skinnying factor, minor modifications were made in the kitchen, flex room, and upstairs bedrooms. The upstairs auxiliary bath is no longer directly accessible from the hall but is now a private shared bath for the two bedrooms. The master suite dropped in size as well. Square footage went from 1606 down to 1470. All part of our master plan for minimalization. In fact, 2010 may be the year of all sub-1500sf plans.

The second plan to be released is the Hamblet. No, not a Shakespearean spelling error. The Hamblet is named for a short 5 block street in Northeast Portland, Oregon that is filled with at least a dozen examples of classic homes. We think the Hamblet would fit right in. The only problem we foresee is that the Hamblet is a mere 1374 square feet. Hamblet Street would be prone to double that. With 3 beds, bath and a half, formal dining and living, we think it would still appeal to the aesthetic.

Finally, in an odd turn of events, the Carver B entered the scene. First off, please be aware that if you have a building code in your jurisdiction, the Carver B version may not be for you. We attempted to take all the glory of the Carver and Carver A and make it into a 2 bedroom house - a 300sf 2 bedroom house. To accomplish this we had to ignore the 70sf bedroom rule. The "master" (sarcastic air quotes) bedroom is a whopping 63sf. Yes, you can shoehorn a queen bed in there. Maybe a highboy with 1' deep drawers underneath. The second "bedroom" is a 36sf (including closet) bunk room. There is enough space to walk in, turn around, get undressed, and climb into bed. On top of all that (quite literally) is a 70sf loft that can sleep another two folks adequately. We imagine the Carver B to be a bunkhouse where outdoor activities are more likely.

For all these plans and more, visit our website, drop us an email, or stalk us as we're out and about.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

We here at Istockhouseplans believe that every day is Earth Day. That's why we design energy efficiency into all of our plans. And to make up for our length of silence, we'll be releasing several new plans with our next update. Our average square footage has been slowly reducing since our inception. Smaller square footage means less material use which means less of an impact on the earth. All of the plans we'll be releasing are under 1500sf and one of them is only 300sf.

What are YOU doing for Earth Day?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Advanced Placement

Energy Trust of Oregon in their never ending quest for energy efficiency in that great state recently introduced their new incentive path for homes. Called Advanced Performance, this path breaks the bar in many ways. Most of us are used to designing and building 2x6 walls. This is going to be a bit of a challenge now. And we're not going to get to do post and beam floors anymore. Here are the specs:

  • Framed floors: R-38 joisted (P&B results in leaky floors and/or saggy insulation)
  • Slab floors: R-15 full slab with perimeter break
  • Walls: U-0.025. This means R-40 assembly, not just R-40 insulation. Either thicker walls or better insulation is required
  • Windows: 15% of floor area, U-0.22 weighted average
  • Doors: R-5
  • Ceiling: U-0.016. Like the walls, this means R-60 assembly, not insulation
  • Heating: 8.5 HSPF/13 SEER or better ductless inverter driven heat pump
  • Ventilation: HRV/ERV with 70% sensible recovery efficiency
  • Tightness: 2.5 ACH50 or better
  • Lighting: 90% CFL
  • Incentive: $4,000 plus state and federal tax credits

This isn't your Father's energy efficiency path. This is some serious action going on. We at Istockhouseplans are rather excited about this path and would love to help your home achieve it. If you'd like to build any of our plans to this standard, we would be happy to modify it for free. That's right. As a program ally of Energy Trust of Oregon, we'd be so excited to see a home like this get built that we'll do what we can to make it happen. Contact us if you'd like to learn more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Windows 2.0

Ever noticed a new house that tries to look old? Some look terribly fake. Some do a great job. But none of them quite grab the look. Driving around town, it's not hard to spot the infill lots that have brand new period houses on them. We can even tell the difference between a well preserved old house, a well remodeled old home, and a brand new "old" home. Why? What's the difference? The eyes always give it away. In this case, the windows. Windows are a big part of a home and they can have a big effect on the way the home looks.

What is the big difference between old and new home windows? Crappy white vinyl frames? Not necessarily as old windows are often painted white. Grids? Not all old windows had grids and newer windows have some passable grids. We tend to think it's depth. Ever look at an old window? It's part of the framing. Now look at a new window. It's tacked to the outside of the framing like a 'Post No Bills' sign. Am I right? Tell me I'm wrong.

The big difference is in the way window production has changed over the years. When the aluminum flange window arrived on the scene, it made window installation quicker and more forgiving. A non-square opening no longer had to be shimmed to accept an inset window. Now the window could be squared on top of the sheathing and interior trim would cover the other side of the error.

Even though the look has been lost to mass production processes, it's not too hard to bring the look back. The first option is with new inset windows. Sometimes touted as replacement windows, these wood or wood clad panes set inside the framing the way their ancestors used to. There is a price to be paid for these windows though as they are not economically on par with their face flange cousins.

The second option is to use the cheaper face flange windows but spend another 5 minutes on each opening. First, frame your opening to 3" larger than required. Then use a smaller 2x framing member to sub frame your main opening. If you are framing 2x6 walls, line it with 2x4. If you are framing double 2x4 walls, use a piece that is wide enough to cover your interior stud, your gap, and then a little. A 10" double 2x4 wall would require a 2x8 sub frame. Your flange window then mounts to this sub frame and voila! Your windows have the appearance of being integral to the framing instead of slapped on top. A little 5/4 trim around the edges and it's a work of art.

Another benefit to this approach is that your water management just got a lot easier. As long as you have a sloped sill on the outside and a planned drainage path, you're good for the long haul. The water above the window opening gets kicked out by a piece of Z flashing at the head trim.

C'mon, my grandma could do this!

Istockhouseplans is committed to quality design and we hope you'll extend this to your building. Contact us with any questions during your build process and we'll be happy to give you free consultation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Free Green at Last, Free Green at Last!

Apologies for being absent for the last month. We were busy working on our entry for the FreeGreen Who's Next? design contest. The contest has 2 profiles, one for yuppies and one for retirees. We chose the yuppies and designed a house that could grow with them. Our design utilizes a 2 bed 1 bath home in 1000sf. There is an approximately 400sf finished attic that is ready for partitions (more bedrooms?). The most exciting feature of the home is the rear deck. It's built on a foundation that can support a future 336sf addition. Simply pull up the deck and build the house!

Competition is hot and heavy with 247 entries. Early voting shows us nowhere near winning but it is early. We're amazed by the number of houses that don't look like houses. If you think Istockhouseplans has got what it takes, show us your support by voting.

Thanks and we'll see you soon!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

From Russia with... lumber?

From the country who brought you the 9-segment LCD display, the motorcycle boat, and a 13-story wooden house, we present to you another fine idea from the former Soviet jewel.

If you can name the model of the car in the video, we'll give you 300 rubles off your next purchase.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haitian Dirtbags

For the past week plus we've watched the nation of Haiti fall apart after an earthquake. Reading stories and seeing the images makes us very disappointed that we can't just up and go to help. But what would we do? We have no medical experience. We could help distribute supplies, I suppose. But since our passion is architecture, our thoughts leaned that way. Many people have lost their homes to the 7.0 rumbler. Even the presidential palace is destroyed (as in structurally unsound, not rubble on the ground).

Why did the homes fail? Mostly because of the poor building practices. A good number of homes are concrete with less than adequate mix and not necessarily any rebar. Concrete has the distinction of being inflexible. If you stress it, concrete does not bend, it cracks and breaks. Bad for homes.

So we gave some thought to how we could help the residents of Port-au-Prince. We thought about buying them some rebar, but shipping costs would be a bit high. We thought about designing some prefab homes ala Michael Janzen, but he's got a great product already and lumber is not exactly plentiful on the island.

So then we ran across some blog entries on earthbag homes. What is that, pray tell? Take a bag, fill it with dirt, stack, repeat. Easy. You can check out a Haitian Dirtbag home here that withstood the quake just fine. The owner of this home, Father Theo, cares for orphans in Haiti and runs a blog here. Their other concrete buildings sustained some minor damage. Think this might be a fluke? Check out some earthbag testing here.

"So what?" you might say. "This all looks fine. Are you going to go to Haiti and build earthbag homes?" Not quite. But we believe Father Theo is on to something. Earthbag homes use local materials, can be built in a day, are sturdy, insulative, and cheap. We would like to lobby with Habitat for Humanity to consider rebuilding Port-au-Prince with earthbag homes to avoid any future apocalyptic aftermaths. Once we get that okay, we will begin donating a portion of our plan sales towards buying bags, barbed wire, and any other necessities to rehabilitate Haiti.

You can voice your opinion too by clicking here. Please write and tell them that you think earthbag homes would be the most sustainable housing stock for Haitian revival. May Haiti thrive.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Putting our Watts where our Mouth is

For a couple of years now Istockhouseplans has been talking all about energy efficiency and how you should be including it in the homes you build. We've talked about stud spacing, floor joist spacing, truss spacing, thicker walls, advanced framing, and modular design. We've given you plenty of advice (solicited and un-) about what we think the world should be like.

But unlike the doctor who discourages you from smoking and then asks for a light, we can back up our claims. As part of our partnership with Energy Trust of Oregon, we are having our plans energy modeled. We'll start with a base code score and then suggest a few improvements that would be the most suitable regarding energy efficiency and your wallet. If you decide you want to get a lot more creative in your build (R-30 walls?), we can run a preliminary score for you to see how much better your home would be.

We'll spend the next few months updating our portfolio with these numbers and then give you the results. While we don't expect usage numbers in the teens (70's-80's is average), we do expect that you'll be able to give your buyers a more complete picture of their new home. Just another service that Istockhouseplans offers.